William Lloyd Garrison’s Abolitionism and the Second Great Awakening

Category: Culture, Slavery
Last Updated: 02 Apr 2023
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The views and beliefs expressed by William Lloyd Garrison in his Liberator editorial are in tune with the social and political changes that occurred in the time of the Second Great Awakening. With the rise of Baptist and Methodist churches in the United States, there was a greater trend to apply Christian doctrines to the resolution of social issues.

The same effort was undertaken by Abolitionists who were inspired to move forward with their cause that contradicted both American political values and the teaching of the Christ. The Awakening saw the beginning of large-scale social campaigns underpinned by religious views. Abolitionism was one of such campaigns, paralleled by moral reform. Garrison’s article reflects this spirit of activism striving to resolve many pending social issues and serious problems.

Garrison’s beliefs were undoubtedly influenced by religious views, especially taking into account the fact that his mother was from a strong religious background. It is important, however, that he was wise enough to include everybody regardless of religious affiliation in his anti-slavery campaigns. In the Liberator editorial he states: “In defending the great cause of human rights, I wish to derive the assistance of all religions and of all parties.” (Garrison, 1831).

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The American Revolution seems to be a powerful symbol in William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist beliefs. In the editorial, he invokes the American Declaration of Independence, specifically the part that states: “that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights -- among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" (Garrison, 1831).

Garrison draws on these ideals to call for “the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population” (Garrison, 1831). To him, the connection between the ideals of the Revolution and the empowerment of slaves is obvious and immediate. The claim to equality with which all people are vested is taken to be equated with slave liberation as slaves are included into the concept of ‘people’.

Garrison’s bitterness about the attitudes in the North could have been inspired by his preoccupation in the time immediately preceding the editorial with propaganda in those regions. The Northerners, lacking the sight of everyday slave exploitation, probably impressed him with their passivity and negligence concerning the cause of slave liberation. The populations in the North were perhaps less concerned with slavery and the need to overcome, knowing abuses for the most part from other people’s words and media communications.

Garrison’s own views underwent a serious transformation as he devoted more time and effort to the abolitionist cause. Since his appearance in Park-Street Church on July 4, 1829, where he “unreflectingly assented to the popular but pernicious doctrine of gradual abolition”, in the time before writing the editorial, he had ability to realize the drawbacks of this doctrine (Garrison, 1831).

In the article, he presents himself to the reader as an ardent follower of immediate and irrevocable slave liberation. Now confident that slavery is a great tragedy that can no longer be tolerated, he agrees that it cannot be abolished in a gradual fashion. Instead, Garrison calls for putting an end to slavery immediately. He uses a good comparison of gradual abolition to “telling a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm” (Garrison, 1831).

With a serious change in his view, he now identifies his previous position as “full of timidity, injustice, and absurdity” (Garrison, 1831). The reason why Garrison thought so was that a change was necessary in order to make his doctrine more in tune with the need to carry out serious changes in slaves’ dismal position. Realizing what slaves have to endure the author rejects to wait till slavery can be abolished in gradual moves.

In the final part of his message, the author addresses the public’s concerns that his language may in fact be too sharp and hurting many people. To excuse himself and justify the claims, he states that “the apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead” (Garrison, 1831). Thus, he insists that the current situation and people’s passivity in matters concerning slavery make him use the harsh language that appears in his messages. It is the seriousness of the offences of slavery in combination with people turning a blind eye to them that drives him to extremes in his writings.

In the poem with which Garrison crowns his passionate message, he also uses a few colourful metaphors to evoke passion in people and justify the severity of his words. Thus, he states that oppression has a “soul-withering glance”, depicts its “brutalizing sway” and “iron rod” (Garrison, 1831).  These metaphors expose to the reader the size and ugliness of what the author is dealing with – slavery and its numerous atrocities. Given the brutality of oppression, it is understandable why the author feels “deep abhorrence” for the phenomenon (Garrison, 1831).

Speaking of arguments, the author does not present many in this paper, as it seems to be more of a continuation and comment to his previous Prospectus. The only forcible argument is the opposition to gradual abolition and the outlined change in position on the issue. In this respect, the author seems to state his views in a passionate fashion with a lot of colourful language that help me make points more convincing. However, he could further strengthen his argument by outlining the causes of such passionate attitude.

For example, it would be useful to bring once again to the discussion a more detailed description of abuses by slave-owners and of what slaves will have to endure if the abolition takes a gradual and measured character. This would help to make the position even more convincing. Overall, the article undoubtedly made an impression on those familiar with Garrison’s ideas and views and believing in his integrity and leadership.


Garrison, W.L. (1831, January 1). Inaugural Editorial. The Liberator.

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William Lloyd Garrison’s Abolitionism and the Second Great Awakening. (2017, Mar 11). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/liberator/

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